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Grow giant pumpkins
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What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of fall? If you're like most people, chances are you think of turning leaves and pumpkins. From carving Jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, to harvest-themed displays, to lattes, pumpkins are an integral part of autumn in America.

If you enjoy pumpkins, and have a knack for gardening, why not try to grow some for yourself next year? Although fall is not the time to cultivate pumpkins, it is a great time to plan for next year's planting.

To grow great pumpkins, your soil should preferably have a pH between 6.5 and 6.8. Bring some of your garden soil by the extension office for a soil test if you are unsure. Testing now will leave you plenty of time to get your soil up to snuff before planting time.

Speaking of, your pumpkin seeds need to be planted between May 15 and July 1.

If you'd like to grow your own Jack-o-lantern type pumpkins, try the variety called "Orange Bulldog."

The variety was developed at UGA and was bred to be resistant to insect-borne viruses that plague pumpkin production all over Georgia. Orange Bulldog is known for its consistently round shape and burnt orange to salmon coloration.

However, if the standard 10 pound pumpkin just doesn't cut it for you, why not try your hand at raising a giant pumpkin? With the proper seed selection and care, you can grow pumpkins tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds.

Every year, the 4-H program hosts a statewide contest to see which member can grow the biggest pumpkin. This year, the winning entry was from a 4-Her in Terrell County whose pumpkin weighed in at 430 pounds.

North Georgia had a good showing as well, with White County's Christine Taylor coming in second place with a 354-pound pumpkin, and Lumpkin County's Savannah Anderson taking fifth place with a solid 100-pound pumpkin.

These giant pumpkins are not just your everyday Jack-o-lantern stock. They are actually a different species. Regular pumpkins are classified as the species Curcubita pepo, while the giant pumpkins are species Curcubita maxima. In ideal growing conditions, like those found in New England, giant pumpkins can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

Giant pumpkin seeds can be purchased online or through seed catalogs. Try a variety such as Dill's Atlantic Giant. Prices for these seeds start at around $3 per pack.

To get the most out of your giant pumpkins, you will need to make sure your plants are properly fertilized and watered throughout the summer.

Try not to over fertilize when planting, as this tends to make the plant divert its energy into large vine growth instead of big fruits.

Fertilize once at planting, again when small fruits appear and twice more during fruit growth.

Be on the lookout for squash vine borer damage. It is recommended to spray the base of the vine with an insecticide to prevent damage.

As your giant pumpkin vines are flowering, thin out some of the female flowers. After the pumpkins start to grow, before they get big, thin each vine so it only has two pumpkins left. This will ensure that the vine's resources aren't being spread too thin to several different pumpkins.

You should roll your pumpkins around periodically to prevent soft spots developing. Some people set their pumpkins on a pallet or a bed of hay to prevent rot. Harvest your pumpkins in late September and enjoy your giant creations.

Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.